Walker Webcast: Election outlook! Predictions from political analyst Larry Sabato


Questions about the upcoming midterm elections? Our latest guest answers all of these and more! We were joined by political analyst, Larry Sabato, Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and Editor in Chief of Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

He and Willy discussed combating political discourse in our divided nation, his predictions for midterm elections, Twitter’s role in the political community, his thoughts on the 2024 race, and much more. 

With listeners awaiting news of the Fed’s next rate hike, Willy kicks off the episode with a macro view of current events: supply chains, job cuts, basis points, adjustments, the future of the office, and more.

As this overview turns to the upcoming midterm elections, he welcomes this episode’s guest: Dr. Larry Sabato—winner of four Emmy awards, author of over 20 books, and creator of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the non-partisan newsletter he publishes with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, which he co-founded.

How do Larry and his colleagues rise above the fray and maintain a non-partisan position in today’s divided political climate?  Because they have a clear aim, Larry replies: Get more people involved in politics, and do so through predicting election results, not arguing. Do so by being a “voice for reality,” and pushing back on a climate that often treats facts as subjective.

He shares poll results that he says demonstrates “a stark lack of the unifying, sportsmanlike spirit that long characterized the American political system.” Out of 1,000 Trump supporters, 51% felt that blue states should secede from the Union.  Out of 1,000 Biden voters, 42% felt the same of red states.

If the current spirit of intense—and often reality-denying—division continues, our system is going downhill, Larry declares.

What about changing the way we vote? Willy wonders. Larry explains that while many people see the US system of running elections as antiquated, it actually works well in most states. But we sorely need education in basic civics, he says. Another change that could help: a return to paper ballots.  

What about incorporating a third party into the mainstream American system? Willy asks. This could, in theory, be helpful, Larry replies. But it is not a shift he expects to happen. 

“We’ve had some viable third party candidates over time, and eventually, conditions may align for one to be elected president,” he explains. “But because of how deeply entrenched the two-party system is in the structure of American politics and media, it would be incredibly difficult to shoehorn in another party.”

The conversation touches upon gerrymandering, recent redistricting efforts, open primaries, and ranked-choice voting before turning to the midterms. What will voter turnout look like? Which figures may or may not rise to prominence in their political parties—and who will win key gubernatorial and congressional races?

There’s discussion along the way about the current lack of split ticketing, “the intractable woes of campaign finance,” and the gridlock that happens when a president and a house of Congress aren’t aligned.  

And it’s not too early to start talking about 2024. What might Trump do in a second term as president? What factors weigh in his favor as candidate, and what role could Twitter play in this campaign?

Larry closes with a plea for the safety of elected officials and his predictions: Republicans take the House and the Senate in the midterms, and Governors Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom join Biden and Trump as people to watch in 2024. Beyond that, stay tuned!

Key Ideas:
03:49 Willy welcomes Dr. Larry Sabato 
08:19 Fighting divisiveness and denial 
18:49 Gerrymandering and open primaries 
27:01 Possible Republican-leaning results 
34:55 Larry Hogan and Jared Polis 
36:47 Kevin McCarthy and legislation 
41:10 Arizona projections and spending 
47:00 Why Donald Trump shouldn’t run 
53:24 The unpredictability of strong supporters 

Webcast Transcript

Willy Walker: Thanks, Susan, and welcome everyone to another Walker Webcast. I had the honor of having retired 4-Star Admiral James Stavridis join me last week for a fascinating discussion about his career, Russia, the war on terror and the current geopolitical order. I don't usually re-listen to Walker webcasts due to my day job and need to prepare for my upcoming webcast guests. But I relistened to the entire discussion with Stavridis. And if you want to listen to an hour jam packed with wonderful insights from a true American hero, I would strongly advise downloading the podcast and giving it a listen during your next drive or walk. 

All eyes are on Washington today. In about 90 minutes, we will hear Fed Chair Powell announce the Fed's latest rate hike and the outlook for future raises. Markets are essentially in a wait and see mode with the ten-year hovering around 4%. We have Walker & Dunlop’s earnings call next Thursday, and I will dive deep on what we are seeing across the commercial real estate industry during that call. But what I would say from a macro standpoint is the following - supply chains are easing. There was a great article in last week's Wall Street Journal about the Port of Los Angeles, where in January of this year there were 104 cargo ships parked off the shore waiting to unload. And last Friday, there were a total of four. Second, job cuts coming, whether it be Amazon, Google or CBRE. Corporations are slimming down after a dramatic post pandemic hiring. The balance of power is quickly switching from employee to employer. And the “Great Resignation of 2021” is likely to be followed by the “I am happy to have a great job in 2023”. Number three, the future of office is more uncertain than ever. Big tech companies sign massive leases in 2021 that they are quickly moving to shed. The one data point the Juul headquarters building in San Francisco has just been relisted this week for $174 million. Less than one half of what Juul paid for it in 2019. Then finally, Canada's central bank only raised by 50 basis points last week. Morgan Stanley's Mike Wilson accurately predicted the current equity market bump we have seen. Goldman Sachs is now predicting only another 150 basis points added to the Fed funds rate versus consensus at 200 basis points and a one third probability that the U.S. economy goes into recession in 2023. So, while the current market adjustments don't feel great, the adjustments were predictable, and they are happening. Okay, so after the Fed announcement today, all eyes will be on next week's midterm elections. And for that, I have one of the truly exceptional researchers, observers, and commentators on politics with me today, Dr. Larry Sabato. Let me do a quick introduction, and then we will dive into our discussion. 

Dr. Larry Joseph Sabato is an American political scientist and political analyst. He is the Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, where he is also the founder and director of the Center for Politics, which works to promote civic engagement and participation. The Center for Politics is also responsible for the publication of Sabato's Crystal Ball, an online newsletter and website that provides free political analysis and electoral projections.

Dr. Sabato is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where he was president of the student body. Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar and earned his Ph.D. in Political Science. Dr. Sabato has won four Emmy Awards. He made the largest gift ever to the University of Virginia by a faculty member in 2005. He has written over 20 books, his most recent A Return to Normalcy: The 2020 Election That Almost Broke America

So, Dr. Sabato, first of all, it's always great to see you. I saw you tweet that someone said you went as Mike Lindell, the founder of My Pillow for Halloween. He's only 61, so I guess you took that as a compliment. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, I wish I had looked that young. But he is often called my doppelganger because we do resemble each other quite a bit. It's been a joke for years and I have had people come up to me in airports and say, “Are you the My Pillow guy?” And what really hurts is he has never had anybody come up to him and say, “Are you Larry Sabato?” That hurts.

Willy Walker: On your website, Larry, it says that the crystal ball is a comprehensive non-partisan political analysis and handicapping newsletter. How do you maintain a non-partisan view in a world that seems to be increasingly partisan every day? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Because we have a clear objective, and that's to get people involved in politics. And we do it using the hook of election prediction. We have only one interest - picking the winners. That's it. We're not allowed to bet, by the way. Other people can bet based on our predictions. I had one student who paid for his honeymoon that way. I was delighted that I could contribute without directly contributing to it. But we pick winners, and that's what we're going to do. It's what we're doing right now. I was just in a meeting. I'm at another meeting this afternoon and all through the weekend, and we'll announce the final picks on Monday. We have a pretty good idea of the directions in which we're going. That's our objective — get people involved and get them excited about politics. Yes, have them curse us when we don't pick their preferred candidates. And if we're wrong, they hold it against us forever. But if we're right, then we can say we warned you. 

Willy Walker: So, I saw you do an interview with former Senator Bill Nelson, who is now the administrator of NASA. I was surprised with the amount of time you and Senator Nelson spent discussing UFOs. But given the state of politics in America, UFOs sound downright believable these days. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, I've known Bill Nelson for a long time, and I'm delighted to say he's a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law. He went to some minor school, I don't think you've probably ever heard of it called Yale for undergraduate, but he went to UVA for law school. And of course, he's the NASA administrator now. And we've always talked about politics, but this was an opportunity for me to ask him about all these UFO sightings off our coast by our military jet fighters. And he gave some interesting answers. He was very open to the idea that there's intelligent life forms operating these strange vehicles, and they don't come from our solar system, that's for sure. 

Willy Walker: So, in that, in the context of our current political landscape, there's a lot going on that many of us can't believe. You had a Ph.D. student who did research on the 2020 election, and he interviewed a thousand Trump supporters and a thousand Biden supporters. The outcome from that research was quite surprising to you. You want to give our listeners a little bit of a summary of what you found. And I think most notably, just the general feeling that many people want to kind of break apart the union that we've established for so many years in the United States of America. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Yes, it was disturbing. It was a very well-done study by Dr. Larry Schack, who used to be my head TA and then got a doctorate and now runs a polling outfit and runs this project Home Fire. And he's also on our Center for Politics board. I can cite many findings from it, but I think the one that disturbs me the most, and probably you — is that 51% of the thousand Trump voters we interviewed thought that all of the blue states, all of the Democratic states should secede from the union so they wouldn't have to deal with them anymore. And 42% of the Biden voters wanted all the red states to secede from the union so they wouldn't have to deal with them anymore. Well, that isn't encouraging. That's not a good thing. If we're going to hold the United States. We've always had hard-fought campaigns, and people feel strongly about their choices and their parties. But we did tend to come back together, if only for a while, around the winner, saluting the winner, congratulating the winner, and trying to work together as a country. Well, that's just gone. It's just gone. 
I just saw where a new poll came out - they're coming out about every seven minutes - but a new one came out showing that a large portion of Americans still don't believe that Joe Biden is the legitimate president. Hey, you can dislike Joe Biden all you want. You can think he's a terrible president. You can regret that the American public made the decision they did in November 2020, but I'm going to tell you something — that’s my field — and there is no evidence - none, none, none, none of voter fraud and all of this nonsense that is spouted out there on the Internet, there's none. He is the legitimate president of the United States. You can vote to get rid of him in 2024, but don't deny reality, because in the end it undermines our democracy and undermines our American republic. And boy, we are in trouble and we're going downhill. We're going downhill if this doesn't stop. 

Willy Walker: You highlight on your Twitter feed a piece that 60 Minutes did last week. Scott Pelley went out to Arizona, interviewed the two candidates for secretary of state, and one of them is an election denier and in the process of being an election denier, as he was asked by Scott Pelley to produce any shard of evidence that there was actually fraud in the Arizona elections, he came up with basically nothing but most disturbingly cited an email from a gentleman who basically made an allegation that was never supported. When put on the spot by Scott Pelley, he basically said, “Well, it's a question as in like, I can just ask the question and put it out there as if there's actual fraud, even though there's nothing behind it.” I appreciate your effort to try and put the reality out there, but I read the Twitter feed on the 60 Minutes website. And I mean people are screaming and yelling at 60 Minutes saying, “how dare you two weeks before the election, bring up something that is not in line with what we're thinking.” I mean, it's quite something the number of people committed to this line of thinking.

Dr. Larry Sabato: There are not just millions of election deniers, there are millions of reality deniers. The latter group disturbs me even more than the former group, because we have gigantic problems as a country, as a world, and you can't even begin to solve them. You can't even begin to deal with them until people agree on the basic facts. And we don't do that anymore. We live in a ‘no facts era.’ It's all opinions. You know, the old saying used to be you're entitled to your opinions, but you're not entitled to your own set of facts. Now, people think they're entitled to both. They're entitled to their own set of facts from which they develop their opinions. We've got to get back to basics. Part of it is the failure of education. I'm an educator. I accept my share of the blame. We're trying to do something about it at the Center for Politics, not to turn this into a commercial, but we're all about civic education of young people. That's what we do in all 50 states and Defense Department schools around the world. We try to educate young people on the basics of the American system, which is a system of genius. That's my view of it. You can disagree if you want, as long as we have the system, we need for people to understand how it works. So that's what we do. We have all kinds of devices like the crystal ball to rope people in, to get them interested in politics and government. And we hope that will help in some small way. But boy, it takes a lot more than the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia to turn us around. It's like the Titanic, you know, it takes a lot of ocean and a lot of time to turn the Titanic around, assuming it’s still floating. And we need a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of ocean to turn the United States around in terms of civic education. And I just hope that happens before we hit the iceberg.

Willy Walker: Is there anything to be done as it relates to fixing the way that we vote to the degree that we have? I mean, the number of recounts, the number of certifications that happened in the 2020 election have all been verified. It's all out there. We know that there are certain systems. There are some, you know, we got from dangling chads back in the election of 2000 up to this last one. We all have money deposited in our banks. We all go to ATM machines, and we think that our balance is going to be down to the penny, and we expect it to be down to the penny and we can audit it down to the penny. Why is it that we still have an election system that is so antiquated? And why would it not behoove us to upgrade all of that? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, we actually, in most states, have a pretty good system. I support the system that we've got, although if I had to make a change that I think would eliminate a lot of the questioning about it and a lot of the belief that there's somehow corruption involved. It would be to go back to paper, have enough guards there, have enough bipartisan observers so that everybody sees the ballots as they're being counted, as they're being categorized, but don't have any computer systems that could supposedly hide votes, even though really they have lots of safeguards in the computer systems. Never, ever, ever have a system connected to the Internet because you're going to have people try and hack it, both domestic and international. The vast majority of the voting machines in this country are not connected to the Internet. There's no way to hack them unless they are deformed in advance, unless they're corrupted in advance. So go back to paper. That's how Canada does it. That's how Britain does it. In 24 hours, they can have a count and a recount. If they can do it, we can do it. Yes, they're smaller populations, but we've got the resources to do it right. If that's what it takes, I'm willing to do it. I think technology enables us to do it better and faster. But if that's what it takes to reassure people that our system is sane and secure, let's do it.

Willy Walker: I read Michael Porter and Katherine Gehl's book The Politics Industry, which I thought was a really interesting read, Larry, in the sense that it looks at politics from Mike Porter's Five Forces Analysis as an industry. And I guess the outcome of it is that the book is basically a duopoly and it's not serving its customers. And they go on to point out how difficult it is for a third party to emerge in America and have viable candidates. But given the chasm between the left and the right in America, why can't we get a third party to come in and fill that void?

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, of course we could. And there have been moments where we have Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party in 1912, that might have been an opportunity. He didn't win, but he finished second, and he certainly did better than the incumbent president, William Howard Taft. Ross Perot in 1992. Sure, he didn't get a single electoral vote, but he got 19% of the vote, which was more of the popular vote than any third-party candidate except for Teddy Roosevelt. He might have won, by the way, had he not dropped out of the race and started saying goofy things like the Republicans were trying to disrupt his wedding. He was actually leading the Gallup polls over both George H.W. Bush, the incumbent president, and Bill Clinton, who eventually won the presidency. He could have won. Once you get an independent president, it changes the dynamics. And one day, probably the conditions will be just perfect, and we'll end up with an independent or third-party candidate. But I've heard this for years and years and years. I'm getting long in the tooth. What am I saying? I am long in the tooth, and it hasn't happened. It's very difficult because the two major parties comprise nearly 100% of all members of Congress, all state legislatures, all governors and the rest of it. And they take care of one another. That's the only interest they all have in common — preserving a two-party system. Because if it becomes a three-party or four-party system, the pie is going to get divided into three, or four, or five slices, and their slice is going to be much less than it is today. So, they set up the ballot laws to favor them. They set up the campaign finance laws to favor them. The news media is very two-party oriented. It's easier to organize coverage with just two major parties. So, there are a lot of reasons why it is very difficult to shoehorn in another party. I don't think it's going to happen any time soon, but I'm always ready to be disproven. 

Willy Walker: You have mentioned that gerrymandering is a big issue and a concerning issue from your standpoint, as it relates to true representation in Washington. Virginia, and Colorado sort of try to take a different tack to the way that congressional districts are aligned and set up these commissions in both Colorado and Virginia. Give a scorecard particularly on Virginia, how that effort went. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, in both states, it went terribly for the Democrats, especially in Virginia. And remember, they were in charge. They're the ones who gave away their right to redistrict. And of course, all of us (I include myself in this number) who are your good government types. We call ourselves GooGoos. We're good government types. And we applauded, we celebrated, and gave them a standing ovation. And for their trouble, the system that was set up in the end favored Republicans. The ultimate appellate was the state Supreme Court in Virginia, which is heavily Republican. And sure enough, the two masters that they appointed, one was a Republican, the other one I think was a Democrat, but it didn't matter. The way they drew the lines made sense in geographic terms. It didn't make sense at all politically. And so, the result is very clear. You have three women Democrats, who are in Congress right now serving their districts in Virginia. As you look across Virginia, there are exactly three members of Congress who are threatened. Two of the three may well lose. Guess who they are, the three Democratic women. You know, it doesn't hurt to have a little politics involved. It doesn't hurt to have people with political sense involved in redistricting. And when you have special masters who are outside the political system, and even outside the state, they're going to make decisions based on geography, not on politics. So, it didn't work out for Democrats. I don't think it worked out for the state, but that's what we got, and they also redrew the lines for the legislature. And we'll find out next November when we elect 140 members, all members of the state legislature. We'll find out if it works there as well or better than it works in the congressional races. I'm not optimistic. 

Willy Walker: I'd imagine that you would think that open primaries has been a more successful endeavor to try and get more centrist candidates. Colorado now has open primaries. Alaska also has open primaries. And we clearly saw Sarah Palin lose in the Republican primary where everyone thought that Sarah Palin was headed to Washington as the congresswoman from Alaska. But due to it being an open primary, they had a more centrist candidate who won the Republican primary. Correct?

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, they didn't really have a primary. They have ranked choice voting and we have it in Maine in some elections. Now we have it in Alaska. There are a couple dozen or more cities and local governments that now have ranked choice voting. What does it mean? It means that of the candidates on the ballot you can vote for (well, it varies from state to state) but let's say it's the Alaska system. You get to vote for four in the order you prefer one, two, three, four. And that first candidate gets four votes, and the second candidate gets three votes and so on. And they keep counting and eliminating the lowest ranked person on the ballot and transferring the votes from that candidate to the other candidates based on how the voters allocated their own votes. Eventually, when it comes down to two candidates, somebody gets 50% plus one. The idea of this is that you will end up having more centrist candidates who represent a larger majority of the public. When you have people vested in more than one candidate and you don't just have the people on the extremes voting in the two-party primaries, nominating very liberal candidates on the Democratic side and nominating very conservative candidates on the Republican side. Theoretically, it's a good idea. I have seen some cases where it worked quite well. I have seen other cases such as in California, where this system of top two, which is all different from ranked choice, really doesn't work well. As always, you know, the devils in the details. So, you have to look very carefully. But I'm open to reforms like this if it increases public confidence in government and broadens the coalition of those who govern. 

Willy Walker: So, we're coming into the midterms on Tuesday. Voter turnout midterms typically get, what, 38-40% of the voting population comes out to vote. Is that about right?

Dr. Larry Sabato: Generally, it's in the upper thirties to low forties, except in 2018. This is something Donald Trump did for us. Whether you like him or dislike him, he got a larger turnout than usual. He got a 50% turnout of the eligible voters. Now, that's miserable. That's miserable. We ought to have 70-80% of people voting in every election. They're extremely important. They affect your lives in a hundred different ways. But it's the highest total we've had in modern American history. I think we're going to get somewhere around there again this year. Better than it was, not good enough, in my view. 

Willy Walker: So, let's focus on the races for a moment. Georgia, it was leaning to Brian Kemp. Now you have Kemp firmly winning in Georgia. And also, Ron DeSantis was for a while there, leaning and is now firmly. It's not whether DeSantis is going to win, but only by how much. I thought it was interesting, a commentary that you put up of the fact that Charlie Crist, who is running against DeSantis, was basically taken out to the woodshed by the Republican Party when he embraced President Obama when they were talking about his economic reform platform and was never forgiven by the GOP. And yet DeSantis has been able to work with the Biden administration in the aftermath of the hurricane and come out, I guess, unscathed. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, that's a good point to make. Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of politics Willy, you know that. Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative. In order to make politics work and maybe to make this very complicated system work and complicated country work, maybe we need a little hypocrisy. Not as much as we get, but we need some of it. So, yeah, we moved both of those into the clearly elected category. Kemp is going to win probably without the runoff. Georgia alone has this crazy system where you have to get 50% plus one. So, if you have even a libertarian in the field or a Green Party candidate and they get 2 or 3%, probably that's enough to throw it into a runoff. So, you have another full month of hundreds of millions of dollars of horrible, vicious, negative advertising that people have to endure even during their Thanksgiving dinner, as one of the candidates put it. Terrible system, terrible idea. But that's what they've got and that's what they're going to be doing for the Senate race. Not for Governor DeSantis; it's not even a competitive race. The Senate race isn’t competitive. The governor's race isn’t competitive. Florida is not a heavily Republican state, but it has a reliable Republican majority, 51, 52, 53%, somewhere in that vicinity. And so those really aren't races anymore. And we have races like that all over the country for both parties. 

Willy Walker: Talk for a moment, Larry, about Georgia in the sense that when you got a Senate race and also a gubernatorial race in the same year, don't the split between the Republican and Democrat, generally speaking, track? And now in Georgia, we have Warnock and Walker who are really tight, a point, two points between the two of them. Yet you have eight points between Kemp and Abrams. And that's odd that you'd have that big of a disparity in a similar state with, if you will, a similar voting population. What's happened there is Stacey Abrams just wildly underperformed or is Warnock overperforming? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, neither, let's see what the vote is. I've found over the years that what polls project in terms of split ticketing today shrinks at the polling place. It shrinks. It's not nearly as substantial as you would think from looking at the polls, and that's going to be true in a lot of states. So that's something that actually is helping Herschel Walker. He obviously has a lot of controversies. But the fact that we have Governor Kemp, doing so well in his reelection race is helping Walker. Now, whether it's enough to prevent a runoff is another question. Today, most people think there will be a runoff, but we still got five days to go. So that's true in a lot of states. We don't have that many split ticket results anymore. Ninety percent plus of the votes are determined by the two most powerful letters in the English language, D and R. That's it, they don't need any more information. Most voters, whether they admit it or not, will decide for whom to vote based on the party label because they have a party label. Don't believe the polls coming out of Gallup and others that say 40% to 45% of Americans are independent. They may say that, but in fact, when you look at their voting records, you find out that they almost always vote for the same party from the White House to the courthouse. So, we live in very, very partisan times. People know where they stand. They know how they're going to vote, whether they admit it in advance or not or even after they voted. A lot of people fib about how they voted, and that means you don't have as much split ticketing. Back in the 70s, the split ticket voter was the number one voter. That was the most common way of voting. People would go back and forth between Democrats and Republicans on the same ballot, not just from year to year, but on the same ballot. That's gone. 

Willy Walker: So, there are five toss ups for your analysis right now on the governor level. Arizona, Oregon, Kansas, Nevada, and Wisconsin. And right now, the sense is that if the trend continues forward with the Republicans picking up the House and just a general red wave that you all are seeing emerging, that those races would lean Republican. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, first, I don't believe it's a tidal wave. It is not a red tidal wave because in a tidal wave, everything that is not nailed down is swept away. And the Republicans would end up winning virtually everything. That's not happening, partly because of the overturning of Roe v Wade, partly because of Donald Trump's presence on the stage. And he tends to motivate Democrats to show up. And they've had an enthusiasm problem so far this year. But I would say, looking at the governors’ races, as I look at those states, Arizona is leaning Republican. Doesn't mean it has to turn out that way. Right now, it's leaning Republican. Nevada is leaning Republican. Oregon, I think it leans Republican. It's a three-way race and they are always tough to handicap. But there are two Democrats running. One of them is running as an independent. The other one is the regular Democratic nominee, and there's an unpopular Democratic governor. The last time Oregonians elected a Republican as governor, it was the 1980s. So eventually, people want change. They'll go ahead and try the other party. So, I tend to think the Republicans in the end will win Oregon, although it's very, very close. Wisconsin's very close. But again, I'd kind of tip it in the Republican direction. Kansas, you think, would be a slam dunk for the Republicans. It's actually the one we're having the most trouble with because you may recall after the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v Wade, there was a referendum in Kansas that ended up being 59% pro-choice in conservative Republican Kansas. And that has helped the Democratic governor who got elected because Republicans were split four years ago. And it's a close race. She's ahead by about two points. But it's Kansas. And if there is a Republican tide, I prefer the word “tide” rather than “wave,” then she might lose. But that's very close. And right now, she's a little bit ahead. 

Willy Walker: So, Democrats pick up Maryland and Massachusetts in the governorship. No surprise there in those two.

Dr. Larry Sabato: You know, there's a lesson there, though. Right now, those states both have Republican governors, both of them, and the two governors have served eight years. And you think, my God, Massachusetts and Maryland are very Republican. It's because they have two competent, moderate or even moderate liberal Republicans. They fit the state and the voters like them and wanted somebody to check the Democratic legislatures. Well, Trump got involved this time. The nominees are the Republicans in Massachusetts and Maryland. Take this to the bank, are going to lose in a landslide. Other candidates who were more moderate, favored by the two incumbent Republican governors might well have won in this year, which leans Republican. So, Donald Trump really has saddled Massachusetts and Maryland with a Democratic governor. Maybe it's a good thing, but I'm simply saying what happened. 

Willy Walker: On that, do you think that Perdue would have lost to Stacey Abrams if Perdue would win the Republican nomination in Georgia? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: For Governor, you mean?

Willy Walker: Yeah, for governor.

Dr. Larry Sabato: I doubt it. It was close in 2018 and this year it's not terribly close. Again, it's the drift of the year. The tide is pulling the election year toward Republicans, not overwhelmingly so, but it's pulling the election toward Republicans. Stacey Abrams had a great moment in 2018. That moment isn't going to come again for a while. 

Willy Walker: I was just tying back, obviously, to the Trump endorsement of Perdue versus Kemp going out on his own. Kemp is such a formidable candidate right now versus Abrams. And whether Perdue, as the Trump candidate, would have run into the same buzzsaw as the gubernatorial candidates in Massachusetts and Maryland. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: I doubt it, because Perdue had been in the Senate for six years and he was a mainstream conservative. I don't know for the life of me why he went so heavily in the Trump direction. He did it because he thought that was his ticket to the governorship. But that was a mistake, a big mistake that ended his political career. 

Willy Walker: So, I want to go through the House and the Senate before we get to presidential politics. But there are two people who are in the gubernatorial world that I want to get your thoughts on. First of all, Larry Hogan running for president. You just mentioned him as having been a centrist Republican. He clearly charted his own course away from President Trump completely outperformed him in the 2016 elections when Hogan was up for his last reelection. Do you think he stands a chance of building a brand? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: I can be succinct for once. No, sorry. The Republican Party is divided into two halves. One half is completely and totally dedicated to Donald Trump, and the other is much more conservative than Larry Hogan. They're not pro-Trump, but they're not pro-Hogan. So, no. And I say that as somebody who admires what he's done. He's been a good governor of Maryland, but sometimes you can't push the rock up Mount Everest. 

Willy Walker: And then in the great state of Colorado, where I am right now, Jared Polis will roll to reelection. You think the Polis’s name is thrown in the hat for the Democratic nomination in ‘24? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Could be. I don't think he'd run against Biden. You never can tell. But I doubt it. But if Biden chooses not to seek a second term, then that's a real possibility, given his age. Then I think you'll see a cast of thousands. And he might be one. Gavin Newsom would be another. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar would run again. Pete Buttigieg. You'd have a lot of retreads from 2020. Not that that's a bad thing. Sometimes it helps to run once to get the lay of the land and then run again, as Ronald Reagan did, and win. So, it's going to be a big field if Biden doesn't run, it'll be a big field on the Republican side, if Trump doesn't run. It may be a big field even if Trump runs. That's what we're watching. I think you're going to see DeSantis jump in very quickly after he's easily reelected next Tuesday. He's not going to wait for Trump to make up his mind. He's going to jump in. 

Willy Walker: Interesting. Do you think that there's any margin that he needs to win by to jump in quickly or you think win by a point, win by nine points? Doesn’t make any difference on his calculus? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: The percentage that they get in the elections is very impressive for the handful of us in political analysis, for everybody else, it takes about three days, and they forget what it was. 

Willy Walker: Okay. So, let's move to the House for a moment. 538 right now has Republicans winning 84 with an 84% chance the Republicans take it, 16% for Democrats. I guess the real question I have for you, Larry, is will Kevin McCarthy be the speaker? And you have pointed out before that because Kevin McCarthy spent 24 hours wondering whether January 6th was something that Donald Trump should be held accountable for, that he has been sort of on the outs with Trump and without Trump's endorsement, he might not be the speaker. Does he become speaker if they take the House? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: I believe he will. And one reason is because the Republican victory in the House is going to be larger than people think. It's going to be a substantial victory. We've been counting it all year. We've never, never had the House out of the Republican column. And usually, we've had several multiples of the five seats they need. Well, it's going to be more than several multiples. 

Willy Walker: And what does that mean in the sense that let's just hypothetically say that the Democrats hold onto the Senate, and the House goes to the Republicans. Obviously, now the Democrats don't hold both chambers anymore. Therefore, they can't just push through legislation, but they haven't been able to push through legislation anyway with the small margins that they have right now. What ends up happening for the next two years is that McCarthy comes in and starts doing all sorts of hearings, and it's just sort of a, you know, kind of show trial going on at the House. Or do you think that they actually act as a real check to the Democrats trying to move forward on some type of agenda in the second half of Biden's term? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Every president, from Reagan to Biden, I believe, is going to experience or has experienced one or both Houses of Congress being controlled by the other party. And in every case, here's what's happened. Both parties have their own agendas, which they pass or advocate for knowing full well that they won't happen. So, you can say anything. You can do anything. And what a president relies on is the veto power, which will stop anything that passes a Republican Congress. And remember, the Senate could easily turn out to be Republican, too. And he has executive orders, and he has rhetoric. He has the presidential platform. Nobody else can equal the presidential platform except for Donald Trump, former president. But not a whole lot is going to get done. That's what gridlock produces, relatively nothing. 

Willy Walker: So, let's go to the Senate. Pennsylvania and Nevada, two very important races. In Pennsylvania, Fetterman did not have a good debate appearance against Dr. Oz, who had a very strong debate appearance. I think your polling presently has Fetterman just slightly ahead. What's your think about what happens in Pennsylvania? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: That is one we're truly undecided about. It's one of the only ones that we can't yet decide. We always declare every race, whether it's right or wrong or different because we don't think listing races as toss ups helps anybody or fulfills our mission. Let's put it that way. I'm not sure how we're going to go on that one. We leaned it for much of the campaign to Fetterman, but it's to me anyway, it's now very clear he should have dropped out after having that stroke. I have complete sympathy for him. I've had people in my family have strokes. I've got friends who have strokes. Most of us do. And I wish him all the best. But he is not in the condition to run against certainly a TV star like Oz. You could criticize Oz about many things, but you can't criticize his ability to use TV well. That debate was a disaster for Fetterman. I know he was being criticized for not debating, but in retrospect, he should have taken the criticism. Just don't debate. But he did it. And now he's stuck with it. And that's how Oz has closed the gap. They're essentially tied. They're almost dead tied. That suggests to me that Oz has the momentum, but we're not ready to declare that one yet. 

Willy Walker: So, the Republicans are putting a lot of money into that race. Unlike Nevada, which I was surprised the Republicans aren't putting a lot of money there. Incumbent Mark Kelly has a real race on his hands, has from the very outset. But I was shocked at the spending differential in Nevada where Kelly's going to have to spend. Right now, the estimation is $13 million to just over $2 million for the Republican challenger. Does Kelly pull out Arizona? I'm sorry. I just messed up there. It's Arizona that I'm talking about. Mark Kelly. What's your take on Arizona? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: We have it leaning Democratic and it is very, very, very light blue. The governor's race will have something to say about that, because if Kari Lake wins, as she appears to be doing, she's very controversial and she's a pure election denier, but she's also very good at TV. She was a TV anchor for many, many years. If she wins by a few points, it's possible she could pull Blake Masters in. He has not been a terribly appealing candidate. His favorables aren't very high. Mark Kelly has had two very good years in the Senate and is well-regarded for lots of different reasons. So, we leaned it to him, but he's going to have to work for every vote and it will be very close. So will Nevada. 

Willy Walker: I was talking about spending. I think current estimates are that $9.3 billion will be spent on this midterm election. That's up 30% on congressional races and up 2X on Senate races. Do we see any end to this sort of arms race for political representation in Washington? And is there anything that we should be thinking about doing about it? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Willy, I would like to tell you that the trend will reverse, but there is a bottomless pit of money for politics because so many people have interests’ worth tens of millions or billions of dollars that come before Congress and state legislatures and governors and so on. And every two years, we end up spending a few billion more than we did two years earlier. I see no end to it. None. And as far as legislation, I propose quite a few pieces of legislation in the seventies and eighties and nineties. Nothing of importance has passed and what did pass has been thrown out by the Supreme Court. So, it is completely hopeless. And I urge people not to waste their lives trying to change campaign finance because it ain't gonna happen.

Willy Walker: So, something that has changed the way that people get their ideas and thoughts out is Twitter. You have 35,000 Twitter followers and you're quite active on Twitter now that Elon Musk owns Twitter, how long until Donald Trump gets back on Twitter? And how much of an impact is that to his voice as it relates to that platform versus the platform he's been on for the past two years? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, Truth Social doesn't have a very big following. Twitter does. I've been on it since 2009 and I'm certainly a minor, minor figure there. Hollywood celebrities have millions of followers. I don't know what exactly they say on Twitter that keeps people coming back. But look, I'm going to wait and see what Elon Musk actually does as opposed to what he says or what he himself tweets out or what his friends say he's going to do. I want to see what he does. If he ends up turning it into the Wild West, which he said he will not. But if he does, there are some indications that he's going to loosen the strictures to the point where some of the crazies will get back on there, putting out their misinformation and causing turmoil and stirring the pot even more than we have it stirred already in America. I, for one, will drop out. I'm absolutely not going to participate in anything like that. And I think tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people will join me in leaving or they will precede me in leaving. But I hope it doesn't come to that because Twitter is useful. It's certainly useful to the political community. I don't know the other communities on there. I don't have time to read everything else, but I read the politics part of it. And it's a decent way to communicate simple ideas and maybe interest people in reading more and learning more and getting the details. I hate to see that go away, but I'm worried like everybody else is that we'll end up getting Trump back on. Almost everything he says and does is inaccurate. I apologize to the people out there who are for Trump. I think even they would admit it. You simply can't trust anything he says, anything! You have to check it six ways to Sunday. You put that back on there with his tens of millions of followers, and right there on Twitter, you have another source of dissension, another undermining of democracy. And we have enough of those already. We have enough of them already, God forbid. 

Willy Walker: So, on that Larry as it relates to the Trump supporters, there was a Marist/PBS NewsHour poll that was done in early September that said that 60% of Americans don't think that Donald Trump should run for reelection. When I read that, I thought, okay, but in that report, in that poll, they also said that Trump's numbers haven't moved, that the people who are Trump supporters in 2016 are still Trump supporters in 2022. There's no up or down. It's very, very solid. How would that number compare to Hillary Clinton in 2010 after losing to Barack Obama in the primaries or in 2014, getting ready to potentially run against Biden and Trump in 2016? How would that number play out? In other words, is 60% of the population saying don't run? Is that unique to Trump or is that sort of a similar number that you would have had for Hillary Clinton in either one of those two kinds of midterm checks? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: I think it's probably higher because everybody has an opinion about Donald Trump, and they didn't in many of the other cases. And also, we didn't know for sure that Hillary Clinton was even considering another run for president. Look, 60% may say he shouldn't run. But within the Republican Party, he's nearly guaranteed to win most of the primaries because he's going to have a certain number of opponents. It isn't just going to be DeSantis. There will be other people who jump in. In the Republican Party, in the states, the vast majority of the primaries are not proportional representation. They are winner take all. And that's how he got the nomination in 2016. He had lots of opponents and winner take all primaries. The same thing could easily happen. And I'll tell you something, I've also been following polls that don't reach the light of day and don't appear in the newspapers. Trump is either tied with Biden in the key states or he's leading Biden in the key states. Now, this is the midterm election. Biden is unpopular and he's become more unpopular in the last few weeks, which is really tanking Democratic chances in the midterm. Maybe he will be more popular by 2024. I don't know. I don't know whether he will even run again. But I know this, Trump hasn't lost his punch politically and not enough Americans, I think, realize what Trump would do in a second term. He wouldn't waste any time. He would go right to work putting yes men in charge of the key sections of our government, military elections, you name it. And he wouldn't waste time the way he did in the first term. He'd know what to do, what levers to pull, what buttons to push. 

Willy Walker: So is there a case there, Larry, that he sits there and looks at and says, look, my numbers aren't going to move and getting to an electoral victory is extremely difficult. I know I can win the nomination, but actually winning the general is going to be just too hard and I'm not going to jump in. Or is it, he is arrogant enough and desirous to get back in there enough that he just says to hell with the math, I'm jumping back in. What do you think would make it, so he doesn't do it? It's not going to be Ron DeSantis raising his hand and saying, I'm jumping in the race. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Willy, the math is good for it and it's not bad for it. The math is good because we have the Electoral College. In 2020, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by 7 million votes. Real votes. He won by 7 million votes. However, Joe Biden actually won the presidency by about 43,000 votes. Because when you look at the very close races in the key states, if that many votes had switched from Biden to Trump, Trump would be serving his second term, right now. The Electoral College favors Trump and it favors almost any Republican nominee. It's going to be a while before a Republican wins the popular vote. But the popular vote means nothing. It's fiction. It's a legal fiction. It's all about the Electoral College. And that's another thing that you shouldn't bother to try to change, to waste your life in ever changing. Don't bother. 

Willy Walker: So, are we going to see the redo of 2020 and 2024 and that Trump is the nominee and Biden is the nominee? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, odds are one or even both of them won't be the nominee. That's what I'm saying. Now, are the odds 80-20? No, they're 52-48 or 55-45. They are the frontrunners, both of them. And if Biden runs again, unless he's really unpopular and I mean, you know, in the low to mid-thirties, I don't even think you’ll see a senior challenge to Biden in the primaries. But, you know, age takes a toll. Health takes a toll. I wish everybody good health. And that includes Trump. To tell you the truth, they're both too old to be president. But that's our system. You know, we have a system that is almost like arteriosclerosis. It's very difficult to move the blood through the vessels and we're stuck with this. So, I'm hoping that one or both won't be the nominees. I wouldn't bet on it. I wouldn't bet on it. But I think maybe one of the two won't be the nominee, and it's even possible both won't be the nominees, and we'll probably be better off for it, if that's true. 

Willy Walker: I remember distinctly in 2006 when you and I had a conversation and you said to me that at that time, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton were the odds-on favorites to be the Republican and Democratic nominees. And you said neither of them would be the nominees. And I don't think at that time Barack Obama's name was even in the mix. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Correct. 

Willy Walker: One of the things that you did point out is that Governor Glenn Youngkin, of your great state of Virginia, at some recent conservative get together, Trump was resoundingly the nominee with DeSantis getting, I think it was 20% of it and that Youngkin was zero. And you pointed out that Jimmy Carter in 1970, what was it, 1974 was at zero as well and ended up winning in ‘76. Barack Obama was at zero in 2006 and ended up winning in 2008. So, it is not unprecedented in our political system for someone who scores zero two years before the general to end up winning the election. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Yeah, there were actually 20 Republicans who were at zero. Twenty! Youngkin was just one of the 20 because loads of people publicly and privately are talking about running for the nomination. They're trying to get in place in case Trump doesn't run. The vast majority of them won't run if Trump does. But some of them will. Some of them will. 

Willy Walker: Is it all the money issue? I mean, in other words, is it impossible to raise enough money to take on Trump if you were to try and do that? Or is it just, you know, the numbers look too strong for him? I can't even get out of the gate. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Money is a big part of it, no question. But I think it's more the fact that potential Republican presidential candidates understand that Republican activists, the grassroots voters that determine everything and organize everything, that they are overwhelmingly pro-Trump. And I hate to say this, but some of them are just following the Pied Piper. I mean, they're there as, I'm not going to call them robotic, but their minds have been taken over by a cult figure. This is a cult for some people. And it's tough to be the cult in low turnout primaries and caucuses. Both parties have low turnout caucuses and primaries. People don't vote the way they used to in partisan circumstances. I wish they did. If we had more people voting in the primaries and caucuses, we'd end up with more moderate nominees. Or maybe we should go to a ranked choice voting system. Maybe that would be a better way to do it. By the way, for the Republicans, I said, yeah, just site Jimmy Carter. They could be the next Jimmy Carter. I realized all Republicans all hate Jimmy Carter. So that would work. But there are plenty of other candidates who came out of nowhere. Wendell Willkie. 

Willy Walker: My final question. I had a group of friends texting last week, and we were talking about, why aren't there great citizens who step forward to fill this void and run for office and give us great leadership that's more centrist than these two polls that we're getting. And I posted up the very unfortunate attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband out in California last weekend as one of the reasons. What do we need to do? No matter how messed up the debate is, what do we need to do to remain confident or maintain confidence that our public officials are at least protected as it relates to these very, very strong, violent opinions that people are expressing? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, I'm going to turn it into a law-and-order academic. Arrest these people, the number of serious and violent threats has increased over four years by two and a half times. There are now thousands and thousands of death threats against people at all levels of public office, including school boards, including local elections officials, all the way up. Obviously, the president is well defended, though. You know, I've written a book about John Kennedy's assassination. Sometimes even the best defended people don't survive. But think about the average elected official. They don't have any guards. They don't have anything. And they're not just threatening them. They're writing and saying, “I know you have two kids. They're the following ages. They attend the following schools, hug them tight because you may not see them again.” What would you think if you got that about your children? Yeah, this is disgusting and outrageous. They should all be prosecuted, every single one of them, if we can identify them. That's always the problem. 

Willy Walker: So, summary, on next Tuesday, Republicans win the House. You're going to say after you're going to run your numbers this weekend. But give me -- Republicans get the Senate? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: I'm leaning that way. But, you know, when I lean at my age, I can easily be pushed back in the other direction. And it's that I'm not very strong anymore at 70, you know. 

Willy Walker: And we fast forward two years from now, we're heading into the presidential election. Donald Trump gets re-elected as president and the House and Senate stay Republican? 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, I'm not willing to go that far. There are so many things that can change in two years. There are so many things that can change in a year. And we're really only a year and a few months away from the beginning of the primaries and caucuses for the presidential election. So too much can happen. Look how much trouble we have predicting some of the individual races for next Tuesday, and we're talking about two years from now. So, I'm going to be humble. 

Willy Walker: And then your final. Who's your dark horse either Republican or Democrat as it relates to the presidential race? Who's the one that you sit there and say, if he or she could do X, Y and Z, they might be a name we all remember. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Well, actually, he's easy on both sides to name one. They're going to be more than one. And probably if the big nominees, Trump, and Biden aren't in it or lose, it will be some dark horse that comes out of nowhere. But the obvious candidates are DeSantis on the Republican side, and maybe, maybe Gavin Newsom, the governor of California. I know probably in this audience there are loads of people who are groaning right now, but he's the governor of California. California has an enormous number of delegates. He has unlimited money available to him as the governor of California. You simply can't rule him out as a frontrunner in the nomination battle. Should Biden step aside? I don't think he'll challenge Biden. But you never know. 

Willy Walker: And he's tall. I would always underscore the height issue as it relates to presidential candidates. Many people forget that Richard Nixon was our last sub-6-foot president in the United States, and that was a long time ago. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Absolutely. You have to be tall. That's why I never ran. 

Willy Walker: My research on you, I'd forgotten that you were president of your class at UVA. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Oh my God. Thomas Jefferson was still living back then. And so, he really made most of the decisions. That was a long time ago, Willy.

Willy Walker: It's always great seeing you. I so appreciate your insight and spending an hour with me. Thank you so much to everyone who joined us today. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I do. And we'll see you again next week. Thank you very much, Larry. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: It was a lot of fun. You did great! Good questions. 

Willy Walker: Thank you. It's great to see you. 

Dr. Larry Sabato: Good. Thank you Willy. 

Filter by Category